The Ugly Duckling: China vs. The World on Climate Policy

Climate change is not a problem solely caused by the private sector. As temperatures continue to rise beyond what was once seen as an easily achieved preventative target, society must deal with the repercussions of a globally neglected crisis against which government bodies have, so far, failed to take action.

The most recent decade has proven to be one of the most economically draining periods for responses to and recovery from natural disasters. The International Monetary Fund has reported that an estimated “1°C temperature increase could reduce GDP by roughly 1 percent for countries in Africa, South Asia, Latin America… In a worst case scenario in which a temperature rises by more than 4°C… the impact on emerging markets would be even more acute.” Countries such as India have “equaled 2.5 percent of GDP” in climate-related losses, and Malawi is expected to see an annual 1.7 percent drop in GDP due to worsening environmental disasters.

China’s GDP growth, however, continues to accompany an excess of carbon and greenhouse emissions. In 2015, the East Asian nation surpassed the United States as the largest global emitter and currently emits 10.2 percent of the world’s greenhouse gasses. China’s energy production is largely dependent upon the consumption of fossil fuels, greatly contributing to atmospheric pollution. Nonetheless, China has committed, under the Paris Climate Accords, to undertake initiatives that directly tackle greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the usage of coal, and redirect government and private sector funds into renewable energy. In September 2020, President Xi Jinping announced Chinese plans to achieve “carbon neutrality by 2060, reaching peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030, having renewable energy sources account for 25 [percent] of total energy consumption by 2030, [and] reducing carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon emitted per unit of GDP, by more than 65 [percent] by 2030.”

However, experts around the world agree that the expectations set by the Chinese government are not sufficient in tackling the current climate crisis. China has only recently started transforming and reorienting towards “greener” initiatives. Faced with the prospect of stunting economic development in favor of the environmental wellbeing of neighboring nations, China has all but demurred. Tensions between neighboring South Asian countries and China present a possible hindrance towards committing to any long term or drastic changes that could help curb the effects of climate change.

While China is not solely responsible for the current rise in temperature and frequency of extreme weather, a lack of transparency and antagonism towards other nations creates a much harder battle to fight in order to overcome and resolve the climate crisis. The repercussions for South Asian countries will continue to mount: according to journalist Lindsay Maizland, recent estimates reveal that infrastructural losses due to flooding could “climb to $63 billion by 2050…[and] tropical cyclones could cost $9.7 trillion globally for the rest of the century.” Agricultural sectors, a main driver of many South Asian countries’ economies, will continue to suffer as the impact of climate change becomes increasingly more drastic. The Asia-Pacific will continue to bear the brunt of an increase in wild fire frequencies; further north, countries such as Indonesia, India, Maldives, and others will continue to suffer from higher global food prices, climate related migration, and economic recessions. 

Despite the urgency of the climate crisis, negligence surrounding the efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change may continue to be a point of global stalemate. The effects of China’s continued uncooperative stance in confronting climate change will result in worsening relations between South Asian countries and the Chinese government in the coming months.

By: Andrew Chinn